The lady took the stairs up to the fourth floor with Edge following. She knocked on a door and Edge thought he heard a muffled “enter.” She opened the door for him and Edge went into Medwin’s office. It was small and somewhat cluttered with framed photographs of rivers. Edge recognised the Tweed and the Tay, but there were also framed fishing flies, hundreds of them. It must have been his hobby, tying fishing flies.
Edge stood patiently, waiting for the Deputy Defence Attaché to stop writing and acknowledge his presence. He wondered why they did it. Was it to show how busy he was, or just make the minion wait? It didn’t matter why, because he found it rude.
Medwin looked up, put down the pen and smiled, “Staff Sergeant Edge?”
“Indeed, I am, sir.”
Medwin stood up and smiled at Edge, holding out his hand, “Charles Medwin. I am the Deputy Military Attaché, but I suppose you knew that.”
Edge merely nodded. He noticed that Medwin’s smile didn’t reach his eyes.
“Sit down, Staff Edge. Can I get you anything?”
“No thank you, sir.”
Medwin sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers, “We don’t usually see members of the UK Special Forces in this neck of the woods. I understand you’ve been seconded to the American Green Berets, in the south of the country. Training or fact-finding, is it?”
“Mainly fact finding. If they’ve been operating in the jungle, I’m sure there are things I can learn.”
Medwin nodded, “It could be quite fortuitous, your working with the Americans. Our objectives are different, but important as a whole. I know they’re main effort is destruction of the coca fields and preventing the supply of cocaine from reaching the states and they are operating in the south of the country.”
He stood up and pointed to a map on the wall,” And this area comes under British interests, particularly this zone of the pacific just out from the coast. British oil and gas companies have started explanatory drilling, but seismology has indicated that there are oil reserves on the land, here.” He said pointing to the map.
“In the future we or rather the oil companies hope to build an oil terminal and a pipeline that runs from the coast, through Buenaventura up to Necocli on the northern coastline. Agents for the companies have started negotiating with the locals, for land to build the terminals and the pipeline. Some have been very reticent about committing, but the Colombian government is very much on-side, as they see revenues pouring into government coffers and the offers are generous.
“Make no mistake, this oil exploration is of vital importance to HM’s Government. We here in the embassy develop and maintain relations between the United Kingdom and Colombia. We support the UK’s political, commercial, and security interests in Colombia, and identify opportunities for UK businesses in new areas such as infrastructure, science and innovation and higher education.”
He sat down and looked steadily at Edge, “I would like you to report to me every week for an update, especially what the Americans are up to and where. Have you kept a room in your hotel?”
“Yes, sir. An open-ended stay”
“Luxury for me. It’s the Grand Hyatt Hotel.”
“I hear the menu is adequate. I usually dine at Harry Sasson’s, most evenings as a matter of interest. I’m afraid it would be a bit too pricey for you.”
“And I have to look after the pesos sir. Can’t live it up on taxpayer expense, me being a common soldier.”
“Quite,” Medwin said sagely, “There is little to be gained prolonging this meeting. Hopefully you will have more for me in a week’s time. I’ll get Mrs Hernandez to see you out.”
He pressed an intercom and his PA said: “Yes Mr Hedwin?”
”Could you ask Mrs Hernandez to see Sergeant Edge out?”
He didn’t feel there was any point reiterating he was a staff sergeant.
“Remember, Mum’s the word.”
“My lips are sealed, sir.”
As Edge followed the Colombian woman down the stairs to the reception, he came to the conclusion that he didn’t like the Assistant Defence Attaché very much. He collected his mobile phone from reception and headed out into the street. He sat on a wall surrounding well-tended flower beds and made a call. She answered after a few moments.
“I’ve finished Ms Rivera. I’m outside the embassy.”
“OK, hang on as I have to make a circuit and come back to the embassy.”
She ended the call and Edge watched the traffic coming and going. He smoked one of his occasional cigarettes and pondered the impossibility of a wiry, little scrote from Nuneaton ending up doing HMs business in Colombia. The little lad from the unconventional club of school losers had gone for ever. He had killed people he didn’t even know, some close enough to cough their last breaths over him. But this life had its problems and some of each death became more horrible than the last. Moira had been right, he had had enough, just two more years to his pension, but then what was he going to do? Security work? He might as well blow his brains out in the hotel.
He saw the Ford 4×4 approach the embassy and move into the nearside lane. He ground out the cigarette and dashed across the road. He climbed into the Ford and looked at Clarita Rivera, who was wearing his bush hat at a jaunty angle. She wrinkled her nose when he got in. Edge went in the glove compartment for his Glock and put it back in its holster.
“You’ve been smoking.”
“It’s a fair cop, but society’s to blame,” he replied, “To the airport, James and don’t spare the horses.”
“It’s a disgusting habit!”
“Who are you? Jiminy Cricket, my conscience?”
“It stinks out the car.”
“Isn’t it a bit too early in our relationship to have our first domestic?”
“You asshole, Edge,” she said as the 4×4 pulled out into the traffic. Edge decided to change the subject.
“Do you know Charles Medwin, the deputy military attaché at the British embassy?”
“No but I think my boss knows him.
“Is he an MI6, spook?”
“I don’t know.”
The denial was a little too quick.
“Where is your boss, Ms Rivera?”
She stopped at a set of traffic lights, her fingers drumming on the steering wheel. She was quiet, as though contemplating what to say. Finally, she sighed.
“He is off long-term sick.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. What with?”
“Leishmaniasis. He has the visceral leishmaniasis version which has affected his liver, spleen and bone marrow. All because of a few, little sand fly bites,” She sounded bitter, “I doubt that he’s ever coming back.”
Edge decided not to push it now, but would find more information later, “I’m sorry to hear about your boss. How am I getting down to St Juan de Pasto?”
She started to follow the signs for the airport, “By Colombian Air Force transport and that should be we, by the way.”
“You’re coming with me?” Edge asked.
“Yes, for a day or so. I need to get the latest intel from the troops down there and introduce you to Major Martinez. I get the intel, process it and send the data to Langley. Then they give me the direction of travel, so I come back and brief the Green Berets.”
“How many CIA staff do you have in Colombia?”
“About thirty all told in the directorate.”
“And in your intelligence cell?” Edge asked, watching a Boeing 777 taking off.
“You and that’s it? You must be very busy.”
“You could say that. There was supposed to be somebody else, but the post was gapped and then my boss went sick.”
Edge could hear a slight catch in her voice as though she was annoyed, or even resentful, but there was something else. She ignored the signs for the main terminal and parking and went up to a nondescript checkpoint. The sign said:
Solo acceso militar. Esté preparado para que le registren su vehículo.
Edge’s improving Spanish told him that this gate was the military access for the airport. Rivera gave the armed sentry her paperwork, which he spent a long-time scrutinising before waving the 4×4 through.
“You’d have thought by now they would recognise my god damned vehicle and me.”
“Latin machismo,” Edge said thoughtfully. “You might be a mover in the CIA, but that’s their checkpoint and they want you to know it.”
“You’re a psychologist now, Edge?”
“No. I’m a man.”
They drove on a circular route to the other side of the airport. Here in the north-west part of the airfield, there were a couple of hangars, a number of buildings and two C130s and a Globemaster transport aircraft. The Globemaster was being emptied of its cargo of helicopter parts and two Black Hawk helicopters. There was also a large number of military personnel, either involved with the unloading, or just watching.
Edge stared at the aircraft pan bleakly, “All this military muscle and we’re still getting our arses kicked in Afghanistan.”
“Are you a defeatist, Mr Edge?”
He looked at her and quoted:
“…personally, I do not regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier,” as Air Chief-Marshal “Butcher” Harris put it. I feel the same way about Afghanistan. In fact, I don’t give a toss about the awful place, expending blood and treasure so Afghan girls can go to school. They have a saying about us: We have all the watches; the Taliban have all the time. One day we will all have to go. All they have to do is wait and make our lives as miserable as possible, before we all get on those aeroplanes and go home. Just like Vietnam and Iraq. Another battle honour on a mouldering flag in some obscure cathedral.”
“Would you like a coffee and a snack before the flight? Sometimes they’re late and other times very early. It wouldn’t be the first time the flight has gone without me.”
“Yes please, Ms Rivera.”
She parked up the 4×4 and hefted her daysack out of the rear of the vehicle, along with an M870 Shotgun. She handed it to Edge.
“Look after this for me while I get us something to eat and drink.”
Edge took his kit and her shotgun and sat down at an outdoor table. He smoked a cigarette and watched the antics of the US Military unloading the helicopters. He pondered his life with a somewhat nihilistic take on it and the outrageous fortunes that resulted in his being in this place. He had finished the cigarette before she returned with a tray.
“You’ve been smoking again, haven’t you?”
“Not me, Miss. It was some bigger bad boys who did it and ran away.”
She smiled to herself, despite her annoyance, “You’re an asshole Edge.”
She gave him a Styrofoam mug with a lid and two sachets, one of powdered milk, the other of sugar. On a plate on the tray there were several patties that had been deep fried.
“Empanadas,” she told him, “They are made with corn flour, filled with beef, potatoes, or cheese and fried until they are crispy. Make the most of them, the Green Berets are on MREs.”
“My name is Clarita. How should I address you?”
“Keep it simple. My name is Edge. Thank you for the coffee and food. . . Clarita.”
He noticed she hadn’t used her sachet of sugar, “Can I have your sugar please?”
“You Brits and sugar. No wonder you have bad teeth.”
Edge gave her a broad smile that showed off his even, white teeth, “No fillings today, mum. And you come from a large, sugar producing country, don’t you?”
He took an Empanadas and bit into it, “Delicious, thank you.”
“I didn’t want to work in the Goddamned sugar factories, so I went to university in the States and the CIA sponsored my degree.”
“Are they a good employer?”
She thought about the question, “On the whole, yes…”
“They expect a lot from you.”
“Like gapping posts and not replacing a boss who’s off long-term sick.”
She didn’t say anything and changed the subject, “Why did you join the SAS, Edge?”
“Revenge.” he said starkly.
She looked at him and waited for him to continue. For some reason, Edge looked into her dark eyes and felt he could trust this rather enigmatic woman. He unburdened himself.
“I was a basic rifleman in a regiment that was sent to Bosnia, probably while you were still a kid. A small force of us was sent up country to observe and guard the UN investigators. Whilst there I met and fell in love with a Croatian forensic pathologist. I don’t know why. These things just happen. She was a mature woman and I was just a kid.”
He paused to drink some coffee.
“An armed gang of Serb militia pitched up one day and threatened this woman, my lover. They didn’t want the Serb militias implicated in the mass murder. The warlord had a huge fighting dog, and slipped its leash. I shot it. The next day my love disappeared. Two days later they threw her body out of a vehicle passing the dig. She was naked and showed extensive signs of slow, protracted torture. In effect, I killed her.
“I swore that one day I would find this Serb warlord and kill him in the same way. I joined the Special Forces because I reasoned that would give me the network of contacts to help track him down. I haven’t found him yet, but I will. He will die very slowly.”
She looked into his dead eyes and felt a chill of fear. But then the anger went and he looked down in grief. He was so grief stricken, that she reached across the table and took his hand. He was shocked at such an intimate gesture from a stranger.
“Edge, I’m so very sorry. It must have been terrible for a young soldier.”
“I’ve never told anyone that. I’m sorry to prattle on. You must have your own problems and grief, without listening to mine.”
“Do you enjoy your job?” she asked.
“At first it was great, parachuting, close observation on known players, sniper jobs. But then the endless tours in Iraq and Afghanistan wear you down. It’s like a treadmill you can never get off,” He helped himself to another Empanadas, “What about you, Clarita?”
“I enjoy processing the raw data these guys provide into intelligence, which I send to Langley. Then they send back tasks for the Colombian Army to complete with our Special Forces. I enjoy getting out of the capital and meeting them, then the roundabout turns yet again.”
Edge watched a grey, single engine monoplane which he recognised as a Cessna 208. As it came closer, he could see it was in Colombian Air Force markings.
“Is this our transport?” he asked.
She turned round, “Yup, that’s it. Get your kit. Do you want the last Empanada?”
He shook his head.
“I’ll have it then. Edge, just a gentle observation. Perhaps you think too much.”
Edge followed her out to the aircraft, that still had its prop turning. She got in next to the pilot, while Edge got in the open cargo door. Inside there were various items of cargo and he made his way to the four seats behind the pilot.
“Buena tarde,” Edge said and the pilot nodded. He was the only crewman on the aircraft.
The Cessna waited for an Air France Airbus to land then moved along the taxiway to the take-off waiting point. The pilot asked for clearance to take off in English and the high winged monoplane moved onto the runway. The throttle opened and the comparatively tiny Cessna accelerated down the runway and became airborne. The pilot held it in a gentle climb to build up speed, then pulled back on the yoke. The aircraft reached about eight thousand feet and then made a long turn to port above the western suburbs of Bogota.
Edge put on a headset and listened to the pilot and Rivera shooting the breeze in Spanish. Some of the conversation he understood, but sometimes they spoke very quickly and he couldn’t follow them. One thing he was certain of, the pilot was flirting with his passenger and she quite liked it.
He stared down at the foothills of the Andes and the terraces of crops. Out of the other window were the Andes proper, towering above the aircraft. Beyond the mountains were the jungles, a dark, brooding, sinister unknown. It suited his mood. Edge thought a great deal about his life and the circumstances that had resulted in his being here. Then he thought about Clarita Rivera. He looked at her black, silky hair and admired her profile when she turned to speak to the pilot. He concluded that she was a beautiful woman and Edge had an eye for such things. But there was something else. He was pondering what it was when the aircraft hit an air pocket and dropped in altitude. Clarita gasped in shocked fear and the pilot said something he missed.
But now he understood. She was frightened, worried and constantly anxious. She was operating alone and was out of her depth. He felt deep sympathy for her. Surprisingly, Edge was a compassionate person. It seemed so unfair that she was effectively a singleton post and she had to keep shuttling between St Juan de Pasto and the capital. He would ask her why she didn’t operate from the same base as the Green Berets.
The flight was about one hour thirty when Rivera came on the intercom, “That’s the airfield up ahead.”
“I thought St Juan de Pasto was one of the largest cities in Colombia?”
“Yeah, the airfield is around ten clicks north of the city.”
The Cessna did a pass to the west of the airport losing altitude, while the pilot asked for clearance to land. The aircraft did a 180 degree turn to line up with the runway and the pilot throttled back. He skilfully kept the wings level in the streams of air coming from the mountains and the Cessna drifted over the runway threshold. They hardly felt the wheels kiss the runway and the aircraft lost speed quickly and turned off the runway. Edge saw a couple of temporary hangers and a line of tents just off a hardened aircraft standing. A C130 transport and six UH 1D Huey helicopters were lined up on the pan with a Huey Cobra gunship. The Cessna steered towards a clear area on the pan and swung round to face the runway, then shut down.
Edge grabbed his kit and Clarita’s day sack. It was very heavy. He thanked the pilot who was too busy watching Clarita’s arse as she climbed out of the Cessna, to acknowledge. She said to him: “Wait here while I find Major Martinez.”
Edge felt like a spare part, waiting in the shade under the aircraft’s wing. A group of Green Berets in Tiger Stripe camouflage utilities went about their business. Four of them unloaded the aircraft, looking at Edge with detached interest. One nodded at him and Edge raised an arm in greeting. He saw Clarita disappear inside one of the hangers and reappear some minutes later with a Green Beret officer. He was talking with her in an animated way and she shrugged. They both looked at Edge who felt like a spare part. It was clear that Martinez, if that was the officer, was less than delighted to see Edge. He turned back and began an animated conversation with Rivera.
“Oh bloody hell.” Edge muttered, “I’m as welcome as diarrhoea in a space suit.”
He sat down leaning against a main wheel and waited.
© Blown Periphery 2021